The Doha disconnect

Newly elected President Obama’s uplifting rhetoric can’t disguise the fact it’s companies, not governments, that will have to act on climate change.

Expectations are running low about the likely outcome of the Doha Climate Change Conference…. or rather, to be precise, the 18th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC and the 8th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.

Maybe the longwinded and legalistic title gives us a clue about the way governments work internationally. Small chance, then, that they’ll act on the findings reported at the start of the conference by the US journal, Science.  Described as the most definitive measure yet of the impact of climate change, it concluded that the melting of polar ice caps has raised sea levels by nearly half an inch over the last two decades and that ice loss in Greenland is speeding up.

Following Hurricane Sandy, President Obama briefly mentioned climate change in his uplifting election night speech when he said “We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened up by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”  But in truth, the issue hardly featured in the campaign and no one is expecting any moves by the US government, whether in Doha or elsewhere.  Gridlock in Congress will see to that.

Yet the news we report this month from companies is more positive – with initiatives on cocoa and cotton and an alliance of international investors calling for clear consistent policies from governments to provide confidence in future investments.

All the more depressing, therefore, that we also have to report a litany of irresponsible behaviour – on tax dodging, corrupt payments and appalling labour standards in the supply chain.

My conclusion? First, conferences like Doha won’t succeed until more companies come strongly to the table and make clear to governments the consequences of continued failure to act. But second, companies won’t have the credibility to speak unless they clean up their own acts.

Until then, the destructive power of a warming planet will continue to threaten us.

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